Sep 26, 2012

Why National Standards won't help Maori

With respect, I think Tariana Turia is plain wrong on National Standards. From Waatea:
Associate Education Minister Tariana Turia is backing the release of national standards data as a way to improve the education of Maori children.

Mrs Turia says it’s time for educators and families to step up so the next generation of Maori don’t face a future of unemployment or low-paid work.

“I think Hekia Parata is doing a really good job. People may not like what she’s saying and they may not like what she’s doing but it’s all research-informed, it is taken from research that has been carried out over a number of years, she’s saying ‘we want that for Maori kids too, and we’re going to have it,’” Mrs Turia says.

Well, that’s the thing: the release of National Stadards data will not improve the education of Maori children. The data is meaningless. Firstly, National Standards are neither moderated nor standardised. This renders comparisons between schools largely meaningless.

Secondly, a different set of standards apply to Kura Kaupapa. So when Mum’s deciding to whether to send little Hemi to the local primary or the local Kura, National Standards are a useless guide. To use a tired phrase, you’re comparing apples with oranges. Keri Milne-Ihimaera comments that standards for Kura reflect “a Maori worldview and are quite different”.

Thirdly, National Standards (as they are) tell us nothing we don’t already know. Maori kids are failing. Am I supposed to be surprised by that?

It’s also worth remembering that National Standards are not an innovative new approach to teaching, nor do they encourage new approaches. National Standards represent a yardstick. All we’re doing is measuring Maori kids against where the government thinks those kids should be. Ka Hikitia, Te Kotahitanga, Whakahau Whakamana Whakahihi; these are innovative approaches to teaching. Pity the government is underfunding them.

So, National Standards are about measurement and communication. Apparently parents want to know “in plain English” how well or not so well their child is doing. Well, what happens when the child is branded a failure and the parents are told? Nothing. National Standards, as they are, end there. The $60m spent determining who is below the arbitrary National Standards line would have been better spent on actually helping the underachievers rather than telling them they’re underachieving. Isn’t that just common sense?


  1. But surely your last paragraph contradicts all before it. I had this same debate with Martyn Bradbury: you say the money would be better spent helping the underachievers, however, how do you plan to pinpoint these students if you have no measuring system in place?

  2. That goes to the heart of much of the criticism against National Standards - it's a solution looking for a problem. We already have accurate measurement systems in place, for example the STAR assessments or the PAT tests. Using these assessment tools (and there are others) we can determine who the underachieving kids are. Even without these tools it's a safe bet to say most teachers know who is underachieving without having to reference some arbitrary national standard or a STAR test.

    1. So no, there is no contradiction.

    2. Are STAR assessments or PAT tests shared with parents? (I assume so).

      Surely there must be value in have some type of cross-school measure, which is not directed at teachers, but simply in order causes of 'under-achievement' might be studied? Because if there are clusters of same, there must be a cause, and then the education system can at least start remedying causes.

    3. I assume so. I know when I was at primary school (about 10 years ago) my results were in my term reports.

      I don't think national standards will be any better in determining the causes of underachievement. Looking at the data we know poor results are concentrated in poor areas. We already knew this. But we have to be very careful extrapolating anything from the standards. The standards aren't standardised, so different schools are using different standards. They aren't moderated, so we don't know whether marking is consistent. They aren't weighted for decile either. There are so many problems with using the data that they are useless in their current form. That could change, I hope it does, but there seems to be no indication that the government plan on doing so.

    4. Um, I don't think I would hold with a decile weighting (why?), but do I understand we would both agree a 'fair' standardised comparison would be desirable?

      I don't know if you've seen economist Eric Crampton's post on the first regressions with the data released:

      It makes interesting reading. But as you said, the problem will always be comparing like with like.


  3. I agree with Turia. I found it interesting to see on the news teachers from low decile schools saying children come into their schools way behind - so they're expecting already that they won't reach the standards? All children should be expected to reach or exceed these standards no matter what. Sick of teachers using students backgrounds as an excuse. I'm all for National Standards (and I'm a teacher!), schools and teachers need to start being held accountable. If you want a good rep, then reach the standards. Put the effort in, I dont expect any student in NZ to not reach or exceed what's been outlined as being their 'level'. Students with learning difficulties are the exception, however, and should not be used in overall school measurements.



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